By Kristen M. Daum
WASHINGTON -- Richard Reinwald sees the rising price of wheat and flour in the global economy - but his loyal customers at Reinwald's Bakery in Huntington only see the extra 80 cents they now have to pay for a loaf of rye bread.
Reinwald says he didn't have a choice. He had to raise the price to keep up with higher costs - such as the 100-pound sack of flour for which he pays three times more than just a year ago.
Reinwald's bakery might be just a tiny piece of the global market, but it's a prime example of how record-high food prices worldwide are affecting Long Island.
"I ask myself what strategy will we use to survive this year -- what will we do now?" Reinwald, a third-generation bakery owner, told a congressional hearing yesterday to address the impact of the global food crisis.
Reinwald's not alone, said New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, who convened the hearing.
Americans of all economic backgrounds notice that their dollar doesn't go as far as it used to at the grocery store, Schumer said.
"They don't have extra income for higher food prices and have to stretch their dollars, or even worse, cut back on their food," Schumer said.
While the hearing focused mainly on the causes of America's higher food prices, Congress and the White House already have been working to lessen the burden.
The 2008 Farm Bill, currently under negotiation between the House and Senate, includes provisions to increase funding for federal nutrition programs including Food Stamps.
And just hours after yesterday's hearing, President George W. Bush urged Congress to allocate $770 million more for global food programs, to bring the country's total overseas contribution to $2.3 billion in 2008.
Experts at the hearing said additional aid to global food programs might help -- but that Congress needs to work faster on a farm package.
The various factors causing the global food crisis are many and varied, so a single solution won't do, National Farmers Union president Tom Buis said at the hearing.
The combined effects of severe droughts, volatile financial markets, decreased food production and the weak U.S. currency end up increasing food prices worldwide, Buis said.
Reinwald said rising prices have forced him to make major changes at his bakery, including cutting staff, limiting hours of operation and raising retail prices. A 1-pound loaf of rye bread cost his customers $2.65 in April 2007; now, it sells for $3.45, Reinwald said.
"While this may not sound like much, it is the difference between ... staying in business and closing the door," Reinwald said, adding that his customers are "very frustrated" with having to pay more.